by Ben Pierce
Mr. Stills walked in like he always did, Starbucks in one hand and JFK’s skull in the other. He didn’t like to leave it at the office overnight. His hair was almost all grey now, and the stress lines on his face grew deeper every day. He strolled through the cubicle pit and found me outside his office, waiting for him to unlock it.
“Anderson,” he said cheerfully. “What’s first on the agenda today?”
“It’s Jay-Z, sir. He wants to know when you’ll take those pictures off the Internet. He’s called three times already.”
“The ones of Beyoncé?” He pushed the door open. “Shit, how long has it been? Can’t he just get over it? I’ve got bigger problems than his wife trying to join the club during the Superbowl.”
“He is threatening to come forward, sir.”
Mr. Stills chuckled. “Anderson, they always threaten to do that.” He set the skull down in its usual spot. “I’ll remind him how I got this—” he held up Tupac’s bandana before wrapping it around JFK’s skull “—if he insists on being talkative.”
“Right, right,” I replied.
“You look nervous Anderson,” he said. “Small guys like Jay-Z don’t get to you. What’s really going on?”
“It’s the labs, sir.” I gulped. “Um, they made a discovery overnight.”
His face fell. “Oh god, not this shit again.” He took off his jacket and stood up. “Let’s go put them in order.” The elevator took us down six floors, spitting us out in the science department. People in lab coats were bustling about, trying to avoid eye contact and look busy.
“Who’s in charge this week?” Mr. Stills shouted to everyone in earshot.
A shorter man with thinning black hair and round glasses came to the front of the room. “I am, sir. Dr. Ian Thomson.”
“What the fuck are you idiots doing now?” Mr. Stills replied.
“Well, um, we developed a drug that can prevent, and even stop a heart attack as it happens. It’s a miracle really.”
Mr. Stills began to laugh wildly. “It’s a miracle everyone!” He began clapping. “It’s a fucking miracle!” No one would clap with him, they all knew what a smile meant. Stills dropped the act and walked up to the doctor, breathing that impossibly minty breath that I had learned to fear into his face. The doctor started to sweat.
“The thing about miracles,” Mr. Stills growled quietly, but loud enough for several nearby lab coats to hear, “is that it is the exact fucking opposite of what I want!”The doctor panicked. “Well, um, we could give it to the employees here, and you know, they would live longer and that’s good and—”
The doctor couldn’t see Mr. Stills press the button on his cufflinks, but everyone else could. The doctor probably didn’t even hear the two reptilian guards come up to drag him away.
“It was an accident, I swear!” the doctor yelled, almost defiantly before disappearing down a corridor.
Mr. Stills licked his lips. “Plague,” he said to everyone there. “Get on it.” As we entered the elevator again the scientists began running around like monkeys on cocaine.
“Plague, sir?” I asked as we went up.
He shot a sideways glance at me. “They royally fucked up swine flu. I asked for something big and they gave me that shit.” He paused and looked at the doors again. “Did I ever tell you why I faked the moon landing?”
Dozens of times. “I don’t think so, sir.”
“Control, Anderson. It’s all about control.” I knew how this speech went. “People can’t be trusted to do the smart thing. You have to make them do it. When I go up to the surface, I see what my father saw, and his father before him: I see people largely going about their lives the way they want to.” A pause to lick his lips again. “It’s sickening. It’s how my father felt, and his father before him. You know my grandfather founded the Illuminati?”
It wasn’t true, but I nodded anyway. His grandfather simply took over the position of CEO, and resurrected the ancient Italian title. I nodded quickly as the doors opened and we entered his office again. I didn’t actually have a desk, I just had a little stool next to Mr. Stills’ desk so I could take his phone calls and have a flat surface to write on.
“How about you, Anderson? Do you have a family?”
“No, sir.” He knew that.
“Any ladies out there that spark your interest?”
“Not at the moment, sir.” This happened at least once a month.
“Let’s keep it that way, Angie was apparently very good at her job before your incident.” The final word was drenched with his accusatory and disgusted tone, as though he were talking to a child he hated. The incident between Angie and I had happened six months ago, and this was the first time he’d brought it up.
He sighed. “What other parts of my organization need attention?”
“Actually,” I said looking through last night’s records, “everything seems to be okay.” Focus, Gary, don’t let him get to you.
He stared at me with his mouth open. “The fuck are you talking about?”
“Everything is going smoothly, sir.” My stomach was turning over, and the urge to vomit was escalating.
He seemed genuinely confused. “Is NASA still running? Have the reptilians attacked? Is Alex Jones still on the air? What about Putin?”
“Defunded, still subterranean, still an idiot, got him by the balls, respectively, sir.”
He stared at the wall, still unable to understand. “Well, that’s not right. Something’s wrong with your data, Anderson.”
“I can have the interns double check, sir.”
“Do that,” he replied, content. “I’ll send an email to Jay-Z.”
“I’ll leave you to it, sir,” I said as I walked out of the office. The breakroom was empty, like it always was. I poured myself some coffee that might have been fresh.
“Gary?” Stacy had crept out of her cubicle, and was reaching into the fridge. “I don’t think that coffee’s fresh.”
“Do you know how old it is?” I asked her.
“I think it’s yesterday’s.”
My coffee went down the drain. “How are you doing, Stacy?”
“I’m doing pretty well.” Stacy was short, always moderately dressed, but very pretty anyway. Her long, wavy brown hair always bounced along in her ponytail, keeping hair off her face and her pink and black glasses. “It’s just the normal week here.” She pulled a Red Bull from the back of the fridge and cracked it open. “What are you doing over the weekend?”
“Is it Friday already?” I asked.
“No,” she chuckled, “it’s Thursday, but we get tomorrow off because it’s a big tourism weekend.”
“Right,” I replied. “I forgot about that. It’s the one good thing about tourists.”
“So, do you have plans for the weekend?”
“Not really. I tend to stay home and unwind on the weekends. Until Stills gives me a call.”
“Do you want to catch a movie or something?”
Yes. “I don’t know, I don’t really like movies.”
No. “Yeah, they tend to bore me.”
“Well, why don’t you come jet ski with my friends and I?”
“I really just want to relax this weekend.” Don’t be nice Stacy, nice girls are demoted to the Testing Center just below the labs.
“Oh, okay.” Stacy went back to her cubicle, disappointed. I felt like an ass, but workplace romances were strictly forbidden in the Illuminati Headquarters. I learned that after a brief fling with Angie, who used to have Stacy’s job.
Angie stopped coming to work after our romance culminated in a peck on the cheek in the breakroom. In three days she was replaced with Stacy. Two weeks after that I found a fingernail painted with Angie’s signature ladybug style—that she changed from orange to red just because I like red better than orange—attached to my car’s window with double-sided tape. I didn’t even ask Stills. My car smelled like vomit for weeks.
I went back to Stills’ office and found him screaming “fuck you, what the fuck have you done for us” into the phone. He’d dragged the phone cord across his desk scattering papers, folders, and JFK’s skull on the floor.
He slammed the phone back into its cradle, several times just to make sure the speaker would never work properly. He grabbed his chest and reached for the antacid.
“Fucking celebrities,” he grumbled. “Thinking they’re so special. We insult the real stars by referring to our celebrities like that.” He chewed the gummy antacid. “This has to be acid reflux. Schedule me an appointment with one of the jackasses in the labs.”
“You don’t want to see an outside doctor?” I asked.
“Fuck no, I don’t trust those quacks.”
“I’ll set one up for tomorrow,” I replied. Mr. Stills had been having the heartburn problem for a few weeks now. It was probably his diet of red meat and Tabasco.
“Jay-Z’s a fucking prick. I want him dead next week.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little hasty?”
“Do I employ you for your opinions?” he roared back. “Don’t get all assertive, Anderson. I’m in charge here.”
“Right, sir. Sorry.” He was being far more aggressive than normal today.
He calmed down after that. “You’re the best help I’ve got, Anderson. I’ve never had an assistant as long as I’ve had you.” His eyes locked on mine, remembering his role. “Don’t fuck it up.” I picked up the things he’d sent flying and organized them again, by importance first, color second.
“How’s my will coming along?” he asked.
“It’s been sitting on your desk for approval, sir.” I’d been telling him that for two weeks.
“I’ll stamp it later,” he muttered angrily. He preferred a stamp to a signature, for some idiotic reason. “I know you’re not stupid enough to try and pull one over on me.” He sneered. “And you certainly don’t have the balls.”
I didn’t respond. He was baiting me; it meant he wanted a reason to drag me down with the doctor and Angie. I felt a chill run down my spine.
“Shit,” Mr. Stills began. “I need a smoke. Let’s go topside. Everything’s closed up, right?”
I checked my watch. “Yes, sir. The park closed half an hour ago.”
He pulled a carton out of his desk and once more we entered his private elevator, and rode it to the surface. We stepped out and walked a little way before he lit a cigarette. He turned around and stared at the entrance.
“Walt was such a prick. Why’d he have to go and put this on top of our entrance? It’s hideous.”
I stood next to him and looked up at Cinderella’s Castle. “I think it’s alright. It is for little kids.”
“When my father sold him this land, I don’t think he foresaw this shit hole.”
“There’s a lot that people can’t foresee,” I said with a nod. “Disney World being one of them.”
“That’s the problem with the world, Anderson,” Mr. Stills murmured. “Too much disorder.” He began coughing, as he always did when he smoked. “Fucking heartburn,” he said as he grabbed his chest. “I don’t know if—” He hit the floor.
“Holy shit!” I yelled. What the hell was I supposed to do?
He wasn’t saying anything, he wasn’t moving. I put my hand on his chest, and felt nothing. He wasn’t even breathing. It took less than five seconds for the panic to rip through my brain. I frantically pounded on his chest, hoping that my ignorance of CPR might be cancelled out by the magic of Disney World. Two minutes passed without a fairy godmother showing up. I put my palms against my temples and screamed.
“Why couldn’t you have allowed CPR as part of the basic employee training you asshole? I suggested it and you say ‘If you see some fucker dying in here it’s probably not an accident.’ Fuck you, you stupid shit! You can’t control anything!”
The reality hit me. Stills had removed all security cameras around Cinderella’s castle because he “didn’t want those fuckers in the security room thinking they were hot shit.” Motion sensors had replaced them. Help wasn’t coming unless I went down to get it. If I didn’t move quickly, the reign of Edwin Albert Stills III would come to a close.
Let him die.
I had to get down there and get someone, if I screamed loud enough, word would eventually get to the right person.
Let him die.
We didn’t have a successor lined up, since numbnuts never had children. It would be a clusterfuck down there for weeks even if I—
Let him die.
The words went through my head for the third time before pictures joined them. Stills had a total of thirty-seven people “terminated” while he was CEO. It was the highest number the organization had recorded. Angie was just one of thirty-seven to him. I could’ve been one of thirty-eight. I was probably halfway there. I stood up calmly and I called the elevator.
I stepped into the elevator and sighed. I closed my eyes and I relaxed. The elevator continued to creep down, and I prepared an act. I didn’t know how this would end. But I did know he hadn’t reviewed or stamped his will yet. I knew I’d have time to review it. Fear was replaced by a cold, and furious certainty. The doors opened to his office.